On A Mission To Post A Parcel

Village post office in Hawkesbury Upton, Gloucestershire

Hawkesbury Sweet Hawkesbury Post Office (photo: Wikipedia)

Ash Wednesday finds me on the high street of a town that’s new to me,  searching for a Post Office in which I can post an important parcel.

I’m up against the clock, because I’ve left my husband and daughter parked in a restricted zone where the parking ticket for our camper van, in which we’ve come away for half term, is about to run out. I march purposefully through the pedestrian precinct, scanning the shop fronts on either side of me for the familiar red oval logo.

After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I’ve passed endless charity shops and poundstores, two pawnbrokers, a halal butcher and a surprising number of greengrocers displaying neat, open baskets of exotic fruit and vegetables, the kind that characterise Asian and Caribbean cookery. I’ve given a wide berth to ‘Jackpots’, a tacky arcade of slot machines offering prizes of up to £500, according to big signs in the window. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Tetbury, we might as well be in a different country. No cosy tearooms, antique shops or bookstores are to be seen. There’ll be no rich pickings in this high street’s charity shops.

A Lost Soul

With a glance at my watch, I give up trying to find the Post Office on my own. I am not my husband: I will ask someone for directions. But spotting a helpful looking person is no easier.

Everyone I encounter is pale, downcast, jaded and sad. Their clothes are cheap, dark and drab, with one exception – a podgy fellow in his twenties sports a black hoodie to the front of which are stitched brightly coloured, giant metallic dollar signs. From the rest of his ensemble, I infer that these indicate his aspirations rather than his bank balance. If I accost any of these passers-by, they look as if they might burst into tears.

Then at last, like buses, two friendly faces crop up at once. There on a street corner are two smartly dressed young men, standing quietly looking about them as if at a loose end. They are quick to make eye contact with me and flash me a smile. Emboldened, I approach them.

“Excuse me, can you please point me in the direction of the nearest Post Office?” I plead.

Their smiles broaden.

“No problem,” says one, “it’s right there.

Modern British Post Office logo

It must be a sign!

He points to the other side of the street. The Post Office, based within a shabby convenience store, is exactly opposite where I am standing. I’ve been too preoccupied with people-watching to spot it. About to mumble an embarrassed apology for my stupidity, I cast my eyes downward. They alight on the young men’s lapels, where I spot badges identifying them as members of a church known for sending young missionaries out into foreign parts. I do not envy them their task in this dismal town. It’s my turn to flash a smile.

“Thank you so much!” I beam. “You’ve been very helpful.”

I think they will need all the encouragement they can get if they are to make it through their duties today. If I can’t summon up the resolve to ask the locals for directions, how hard must it be to talk to them about saving their souls?

Mission Accomplished

But as I join the queue in the Post Office, I castigate myself for my arrogance. Though armed only with smart suits and old-fashioned haircuts, these pleasant young men are bolstered by a much greater force than my smile: their unshakeable belief in their god. Though I don’t share their faith, I hugely admire what they are doing. I am suddenly moved to pay tribute, and so, my own mission accomplished, as I march back to the car where my husband will be impatiently drumming the steering wheel, I determine to show some resolution of my own: I decide to give up alcohol for Lent.

Mysterious ways…

Can’t see the wood for the trees… (image: Wikipedia)

This article was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2013.

If you liked this article, you might like these others about post offices:

The Power of the Postage Stamp – about my daughter’s new hobby

Who Will Buy? – a memoir about the change in our village shops and services

3 thoughts on “On A Mission To Post A Parcel

  1. Pingback: A Parcel of Love | Just A Closer Walk With Thee

  2. I loved this post, Debbie … but then I can identify with it as I am a Brit.

    We seem to have a lot in common. I live in Cornwall (and we have recently had to sell our beloved Hymer camper van, Herman) but I adore Tetbury (who wouldn’t), and I grew up in an era of little shops and ‘proper’ Post Offices.

    However, being a very lapsed Buddhist/atheist I won’t be joining you in giving up alcohol for Lent … although I do admire your motives for such a sacrifice :)

    • Hello Angela, how nice to meet you here! Yes, we do seem to have a lot in common – and I love Cornwall too! Actually, I’m an atheist too – which makes it all the more remarkable that I was moved to give up something for Lent – and more explicable that I must confessed I have lapsed a few times since! But overall cutting down, so those very helpful chaps did save me in some respect, if not quite in the way they might have hoped! ;)

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